Truss Sunak

Sunak vs Truss: where is the moral vision of leadership?

Rishi Sunak may become the first Asian Prime Minister of the UK. A practising Hindu, his faith is manifestly important to him. He swore his parliamentary oath on the Bhagavad Gita, and when he was Chancellor lit diyas for Diwali on the steps of 11 Downing Street, which was a British first. He is very open about this, having stated: “I am now a citizen of Britain. But my religion is Hindu. My religious and cultural heritage is Indian. I proudly say that I am a Hindu and my identity is also a Hindu.”

But it isn’t clear how his spiritual values or Hindu ethics inform his politics because he doesn’t really ‘do God’ (or Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva): we know that his family “means everything” to him, but that is true of people of all faiths and none. He has been asked about how his faith shapes his political beliefs, but hasn’t yet responded.

Liz Truss may become the third woman Prime Minister of the UK. She is reportedly a Christian, but this is unconfirmed. She is robust in defence of the freedom of religion or belief, and quotes St Paul in her cause: ‘Be on guard, stand firm, be courageous, be strong’, but anyone can quote Scripture, and such speeches are written for her. She has been asked about how her faith (if any) shapes her political beliefs, but hasn’t yet responded.

Neither candidate expresses any kind of moral vision for the future: their narrative is bound by economics, which isn’t unimportant, but man does not live by GDP alone. For Rishi Sunak it is all about ‘sound money’ (that is, reducing inflation even as people are facing £4,000 domestic fuel bills); and for Liz Truss it is tax cuts in order to spur growth, which she insists would not be inflationary. She would also suspend the green levies on fuel bills, which is significant indeed in terms of affordability and inflation, but not for those who care about creation. These taxation arguments are dominating the televised debates, and will no doubt be repeated ad nauseam during the nationwide hustings for 160,000 Conservative Party members. But it is all more reactionary than visionary.

And now were hearing a blitz of policy ideas on crime, immigration and Brexit. Rishi Sunak says he would cap the number of refugees entering the country, but doesn’t say what the cap would be, or what would happen to the refugees who arrive after the cap is reached. Nor does he have a plan to distinguish refugees from economic migrants.

Liz Truss has announced that she would order the police to focus on actual crimes such as murder, burglary and rape rather than on Twitter spats and Facebook rants. She has also said she would outlaw catcalling and wolf-whistling, as part of a crackdown on misogyny in public places, so the police focus would actually be on murder, burglary, rape and whistling in the streets.

Given their lack of a coherent moral vision, perhaps it is better to return to St Paul: ‘.. by their fruits ye shall know them.’

Tim Dieppe at Christian Concern has done some analysis of their respective voting records on matters of life, family and sexuality. On Rishi Sunak, he writes:

What is striking about Sunak’s voting record is that he has abstained (or been absent) for nearly all the moral issue votes in parliament that he has been an MP for.

On life issues, he abstained on ‘DIY’ home abortions, abstained on censorship zones, and abstained on nearly all the votes on abortion services in Northern Ireland. He also abstained on a vote to decriminalise abortion and on a vote to legalise assisted suicide.

Sunak was absent for the vote on ‘no-fault divorce’ and also for the vote to introduce same-sex ‘marriage’ in Northern Ireland. He was also absent for the vote on mandatory vaccines for care home workers.

What are we to make of all these abstentions or absences from votes on key moral issues? At the very least, we can conclude that Sunak does not have strong views on these issues and does not prioritise them in his political work. At worst, we could say that he is deliberately avoiding voting on issues which could alienate some supporters. I think we should pray that his views become clearer on these issues during the leadership campaign over the coming weeks.

..On transgenderism, Sunak has said that “Biology is critically important.” An ally of his told the Mail on Sunday that Sunak would reverse “recent trends to erase women via the use of clumsy, gender neutral language” and said that “he believes we must be able to call a mother a mother and talk about breastfeeding, alongside trans-inclusive language where needed.” The article also claimed that in his “manifesto for women’s rights” Sunak will “oppose biological males being allowed to compete against women in sport” and “will call on schools to be more careful how they teach on issues of sex and gender.”

I can find no statement from Sunak on LGBT Pride, or on conversion therapy. Once again, it looks like he has shied away from expressing views on these subjects, though given his trans critical comments above, we could read that he does not follow all of LGBT ideology.

On Liz Truss, he writes:

..Truss has voted on more moral issues than Sunak. Unfortunately, her record is not good where she has voted. Truss supported ‘no fault’ divorce. She supported introducing same-sex ‘marriage’ in England and Wales, and also more recently in Northern Ireland.  She also supported allowing the creation of genetically modified babies with three or four parents. On abortion, she abstained on ‘DIY abortion’ and on censorship zones, but voted for liberalising abortion laws in Northern Ireland. She also supported mandatory vaccines for care home workers. She abstained on assisted suicide.

..On transgenderism, Truss made a strong statement in support of single-sex services being restricted on the basis of biological sex. However, more recently she ruled out accepting guidance that would ban transgender people from being able to use single-sex spaces. She said: “The Government has no interest in changing the current situation where transgender people are able to use facilities of their chosen gender.” She has spoken out clearly against gender self-identification, insisting that “medical checks are important.” She also said that she agreed that “only women have a cervix.”

On conversion therapy, Truss clearly supports a ban, and as Minister for Women and Equalities, she launched the government consultation on the matter. However, she has said thatit is also important to protect freedom of speech, and the ability of adults to consent and the freedom to express the teachings of [religious groups].” She is said to be hopeful that trans people will be included in the eventual conversion therapy ban, after the government decided to exclude therapy for transgenderism from the conversion therapy ban.

On LGBT issues more widely, Truss has pushed for all government departments to withdraw from Stonewall’s controversial diversity champions scheme. Although imperfect, it is fair to point out that the Government Equalities Office took a better direction under her leadership than it had previously.

Christians are, however, also manifestly concerned about poverty, exclusion, creation, war, justice and peace, so some analysis of their wider voting records would be useful.

According to They Work For You, Liz Truss has consistently voted against the regulation of gambling; for higher taxes on alcoholic drinks; for mass surveillance of people’s communications; for the reduction of spending on welfare; against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability; against measures to prevent climate change; for selling England’s state owned forests; for culling badgers to tackle bovine tuberculosis; both for and against greater regulation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract shale gas; for replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system; against investigations into the Iraq war; both for and against laws to promote equality and human rights.

Rishi Sunak’s wider voting record establishes that he voted for higher taxes on alcoholic drinks; for mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities; for more restrictive regulation of trade union activity; for fewer MPs in the House of Commons; (generally) against laws to promote equality and human rights; against measures to prevent climate change; for greater regulation of fracking; or replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system; against investigations into the Iraq war; against UK membership of the EU; for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits; against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability

Curiously, there is a significant number (eight, in fact) of “We don’t have enough information to calculate Rishi Sunak’s position on…”, which corroborates Time Dieppe’s observation about his abstentions or absences from votes on key moral issues.

But none of this amounts to a moral vision of leadership from either candidate, and we are left with an uneasy feeling of something we can’t quite put our finger on, as Robert Shrimsley touches on in the FT.

In this topsy-turvy contest, the Remainer Truss is the Brexit candidate; the woman who loyally served in the cabinet of the past three premiers is the change candidate; a Reaganite who calls herself a Thatcherite who has suddenly found the magic money tree and no longer worries about the deficit.

Meanwhile Sunak, an original Leave supporter, is depicted as a Boris back-stabber and a Brexit trimmer who wishes to avoid confrontation with Brussels. He has become the mainstream candidate, irritating Tories with talk of fiscal responsibility and tackling inflation. Worse, he has dismissed their economic ideas as “fairy tales”.

But Tories want the fairy tale. For many, the test is no longer what you have done but whether you believe. There is no place for questioning. Approbation comes by faith alone.

Faith alone, but faith in what? Where is the overarching moral mission? Where is the authoritative expression to alleviate suffering and advance social amelioration?  Where is the cohesive plan for individual flourishing? Where is the political embodiment of an ethical framework? Where is the inspiration for people to vote for either of them?

Where is the unequivocal commitment to helping (young) people own their own homes; to settle down, start a family, and invest in society?

Isn’t that a rather more Conservative moral vision than the Dutch auction of tax commitments or the flat-footed social policies the candidates are now coming out with? What is the future of capitalist Conservatism if young people have no capital, and no reason at all to be Conservative?